Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My own medicine, a book review

Disclosure: Geoff Kurland, author of My own medicine: a doctor's life as a a patient, is a colleague and a very nice guy, as well as a fellow ultrarunner.. Nonetheless, I'd have liked this book even if I had never come to Pittsburgh

This book recounts Dr. K's experience fighting leukemia. He has some ongoing respiratory symptoms after completing a 50 mile race, so he gets a chest x-ray. This shows a mass in the middle of his chest. One things leads to another and he is diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer. He decides to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic where his father is on the faculty. Given how weird it would be to be a patient where you are also a faculty member (UC-Davis at the time) I think that was a good idea.

Anyway, Dr. K has a lot of insight about what it's like being a patient (e.g. sitting in your hospital room all day, waiting for the doctor who comes in for 5 minutes), and brings a unique perspective to the experience of being a patient. He is also an excellent writer. He includes a lot of reflection about his life as a doctor and what pediatric residency was like, which I enjoyed, and the struggles in his romantic life, which I enjoyed less.

To give you a taste, late in the course, when he seemed to be doing well, he developed a long fever of unknown origin. Thin to start, he wasted away in the hospital with ongoing fevers which no one could figure out:
I am pretty sure I will die, for the nightly fevers, a hollow appetite, and apathy have conspired together, leaving me silently anguished and empty. I tell myself that this is what it is to die slowlyl. I am not afraid of dying as much as I thought I'd be. Instead, I feel a sadness that the cause- the infection, the tumor, or whatever it is- eludes my physicians.
Luckily, his physicians eventually figure it out. He goes on to be cured and fulfills his dream by completing the Western States 100 Mile Run twice, the final time last summer, when I fill in for him in his usual role as doctor at the major checkpoint in Foresthill, 62 miles into the race. While I think I did a credible job as an MD, I failed to live up to Geoff's ability to entertain the other workers with bad jokes.

In summary, I really enjoyed this book. Given that prominent themes include ultrarunning, struggling to make your way in academic medicine and living in Pittsburgh, this may not be surprising. But it is an excellent book, very well-writtent and with good insight. I recommend it to all.


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